"That tells me that it's probably people who are often more focused on experiences in life," than money, Holmes said.
Jealousy & love
One thing that seems to unite the polyamorous community is a real enthusiasm for digging into emotions. Honesty, openness and communication are cornerstones for polyamorous relationships, Holmes has found.
"They're talking a lot, they're negotiating a lot, they're bringing their feelings to the table a lot," he said.
It's this intensive conversation that might be wise for monogamous couples to emulate, Holmes said. His work also suggests that basic emotions work very differently in polyamorous relationships.
Take jealousy. If you ask most people how they'd feel if their partner had sex with or fell in love with someone else, the responses would be pretty negative: fear, anger, jealousy, rejection. Ask a polyamorous person the same question, and they're more likely to tell you they'd be thrilled. It's a concept called "compersion," which means the joy felt when a partner discovers love outside of you. It's similar to the feeling the typical person might get after finding out their best friend scored her dream job, Holmes said. But in this case, the happiness stems from a lover's external relationships.
That finding challenges much of what traditional psychological research has established about how jealousy works.
"It turns out that, hey, people are not reacting with jealousy when their partner is flirting with someone else," Holmes said. "Good science tests theories and predictions … you need to see if it holds up even in extreme situations."
In another example of polyamorous people potentially turning typical psychological reactions upside-down, Holmes conducted a preliminary analysis of about 200 polyamorous people, asking them about feelings of jealousy. Typically, he said, you'd expect to see that women are more anxious about emotional infidelity, while men worry more about sexual infidelity. That wasn't the case among the polyamorous individuals. In fact, there were no gender differences in rates of sexual and emotional jealousy to be found.
None of this suggests that polyamorous people are somehow immune to jealousy, Holmes said. But when jealously does occur, it's discussed. The person feeling jealous is encouraged to examine their own psyche to find out what's bothering them and which of their needs aren't being met. Then the pair (or triad, or quad) can negotiate boundaries.
Holmes is careful to say he's not advocating any particular relationship structure. But in some cases, consensual nonmonogamy may be a more responsible choice — at least if monogamy is proving too tough.
The University of Michigan's Moors has found that people who cheat on their partners sexually are less likely to engage in safe sex while doing so than are people in consensual nonmonogamous relationships. The findings, published in March 2012 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, apply to condom use, use of gloves for genital touching, discussion of sexually transmitted disease and sexual history and sterilization of sex toys. [50 Sultry Facts About Sex]
"Individuals in consensually nonmonogamous relationships were just safer across the board," Moors told LiveScience. A second study, to be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Sexual Health, found that individuals who had permission to "cheat" were more likely to use condoms correctly than actual cheaters.